Organize!

In our Organize! columns we explore various lessons in organizing strategies and tactics, going beyond the outside story of a campaign to look at how it worked or what lessons it might have to teach us.

Public Land Should be Used for Public Good

When a vacant lot in Oakland was close to becoming the home of a 24-story, market-rate development, local activists worked together to prevent it from happening.
A vacant building in New York City that has boarded up windows and a "Get Rich" signs for a kid cut.

Housing, Not Warehousing—A Victory 10 Years in the Making

Warehousing is one of real estate’s best-kept secrets, and a crucial piece of how the housing market can keep supply low and demand high. One New York City organization rallied to prove warehousing still posed a problem, and pushed the boundaries of what was politically possible.
Three Minneapolis residents chat while sitting at a table outdoors.

Artists as Organizers

Creative placemaking means more than merely adding public art into the mix. To be sustainable it needs to build relationships—and power.
Members of Boston Liberation Health hold a banner that reads, "Capitalism, racism, and heteropatriachy are making us sick. Join Liberation Health."

How Organizing for Justice Helps Your Mental Health

How do social justice, organizing, and mental health interact? Shelterforce chats with clinical social worker Dawn Belkin Martinez to find out.
Chris Wilder, Valley Medical Center Foundation CEO, holds a sign that reads "Yes on A: Affordable Housing. Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home." The initiative tied health and housing funding for county residents.

Housing Is Health: Ballot Initiatives in California Approved

A conversation with three county supervisors who were instrumental in moving affordable housing ballot measures forward in the California Bay Area by bringing in the health factor.
Three members of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California give a thumbs up as they hold "Register and Vote" signs in different languages.

How the Bay Area Got $2 Billion for Affordable Homes

San Francisco Bay Area voters approved bold new investments in 2016 after housing advocates--part of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California--ignited a successful electoral strategy for the general election. Here's how it worked.
Residents in Austin, Texas, sit in a micro-unit home.

Flipping the Script

A nonprofit forgoes the typical community meeting for a "living charrette," which leads to greater neighborhood feedback about a proposed 24-acre development in Austin, Texas.
A trainee wearing a white hardhat fixes a light fixture in an apartment.

Making a Success of Local Hire

Local hire policies are among the strongest strategies for bringing good job opportunities to disadvantaged communities, but adding more provisions to specifically target those with the most barriers to employment can make local hiring practices even more effective.
A sign for payday loans is seen on a window, with a illustration of a man in a suit holder cash in his arms. The sign also reads "Fast friendly service. $50 to $500."

Getting New Jersey to Divest from Payday Lending

NJ Citizen Action says having a state pension fund invested, even indirectly, in a form of lending illegal in the state cannot stand.

Government-Funded Organizing?

Public funding for community organizing would strengthen our democracy and re-legitimize a beleaguered public sector. It's time to stop writing off the idea.
protesters

Fighting Gentrification Through Collective Bargaining

For the past two years, the Crown Heights Tenant Union of Brooklyn has turned collective bargaining strategies on landlords—and policymakers.

Cross-Community Collaboration on NYC’s Municipal ID Program

Lack of identification hurts many different groups in different ways—from the homeless to immigrants, and they all need to be considered in the fight for an alternative.

Affordable, But for Whom?

How a box of felt pieces helps organizers help New York communities advocate for their real affordable housing needs 

Homeownership Counselors—And Organizers, Too!

Northwest Side Housing Center combines counseling and organizing to empower homeowners facing foreclosure.

Winning a Land Bank We Can Trust

Lessons from Philadelphia's Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land

Occupy Wall Street: A New Wave of Fair Housing Activism?

Is there a new community reinvestment movement afoot?

A Decade of Growth

Institution-based community organizations tackle the challenges of the new millennium at the local, state, and national level

Living in the Buffer

Preventing the development of new affordable housing in close proximity to freeways isn't a just solution to the health effects of LA's air pollution.

New CDC Trade Association Lays Infrastructure

As sequestration takes hold and Congress wrestles with FY 2014 budget negotiations, the affordable housing and community development field is in a fragile state....

Renters Rising

How San Francisco’s housing movement turned an assault on renters into a victory

Beating Bank-Owned Blight

When Oakland residents raised hell about trashed foreclosed houses harming their neighborhoods, the city got on board and changed the way it handles code violations on bank-owned properties.

Putting “Community” Back in “CRA”

The Community Reinvestment Act and regulators have been unable to hold banks accountable to distant and distinct local communities—so nonprofits have stepped in to do the heavy lifting.

Big Island Organizing

An organizing drive in Hawaii has forced the hand of America's largest bank, achieving a breakthrough that has slashed foreclosures.

Occupying Occupy: Lessons from Central Brooklyn

A few months ago I was scheduled to moderate a panel on how the Occupy movement would affect the foreclosure crisis happening in New...

City Life and Occupy: A Developing Relationship

This past August, a broad new coalition in Boston formed to plan a massive march against Bank of America and other corporate targets on...

Occupy Makes Space for Community Advocates

By smashing the wall of media silence about America’s wealth and income divide, the Occupy movement has opened a dramatically new terrain for organizations...

A Surprising Victory

When business leaders in St. Louis withdrew financial support for a campaign to pass a badly needed transit tax, it was a blessing in disguise.
An orange tinted bridge over water in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

A Battle for Wards in New Jersey’s Hub City

How an organization of residents crossing age, race, and socioeconomic lines took on an unyielding City Hall known for quelling grass-roots efforts and (almost) overtook the political party machinery.

Once a Landmark, Always a Landmark

The Winthrop, a grand hotel converted to affordable housing in the 1970s, was at the center of a conflict between the city’s hopes for...

Organizing Lessons from Allen Parkway Village

When Lenwood E. Johnson, the son of Texas sharecroppers, moved into Houston’s Allen Parkway Village project housing, the Freedmen’s Town section of the city...

Thirty-Five Years of Building Citizen Power

The 2008 presidential contest vaulted community organizing into the national limelight, as the McCain campaign sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Barack...

Learning to Love Sticky Cities

Dispelling stereotypes, the Great Lakes Urban Exchange has set out to unite the Rust Belt, starting with restoration of the Great Lakes region and ending with equitable, sustainable transformation.

Walking the Walk

In a city full of problems and promise, I'm taking the first steps toward learning up close what community organizing can accomplish.

A Word of Caution: The Forgotten Photograph

The trouble with many of us, and with our culture as a whole, is that we don’t take time to “relate,” to connect formally...

Homeless Revolution

An organization of homeless New Yorkers rallied residents of Harlem and Manhattan to stand up and take notice of the city's long-standing practice of warehousing vacant properties.

A Matter of Trust

Although a March 2007 Zogby International poll found that affordable housing was an important election issue, most elected officials have yet to place creating...

Building For the Future

The supply of affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area is expected to increase in the next five years because of an innovative...

Rhode Island Tenants Fight and Win!

On August 1, 2005, 193 residents at the Barbara Jordan I properties in Providence, Rhode Island, received a letter informing them that the owner...

Make Your Nonprofit a Media Empire

Using soap operas and talk shows to mix entertainment with financial education

Thirsty for Justice

Some 200 miles from the Mexican border, residents of New Mexico’s 23-year-old Pajarito Mesa community pay taxes but lack essential services like roads, electricity...

Still Riding Route 61

A labor/community partnership stops a fare hike and gives workers a boost

Demanding a Better Deal

Save Middle East Action Committee (SMEAC) was created in 2001 by community stakeholders and representatives in Baltimore after the local newspaper announced that they...

The Fight to Save Section 8

In April 2004, when the Bush Administration launched a major assault on the program that helps Marion Brady pay her rent, she sprang into...

A Victory Over the Slumlords

When the last light in her hallway at the Juanita Apartments in Burien, a working-class city just south of Seattle, burned out in January...

A Guide for Tenants on Leadership and Building Control

Renters in Washington, DC’s Shaw neighborhood have a little extra help these days as they organize to improve their living conditions – and maybe...

A Neighborhood in Brooklyn Says "No" to Worker Exploitation

A language barrier, I believe, has muddled my conversation with Nieves Padilla. “We’re fighting to get the workers on Knickerbocker Avenue the minimum wage,”...

In Red State Florida, Victory for Working People

While 52 percent of Floridians voted for George Bush in the November election, 72 percent backed a Bush-unfriendly ballot initiative: a constitutional amendment raising...

Alabama Arise Fights For Tenant Protections

It was hardly an unusual story in 1993 in Montgomery, Alabama. A tenant had spent months trying to get her landlord to fix a...

San Francisco Housing Activists Win Land and Shift the Debate

On May 11, 2004, homeless people in San Francisco scored a victory by convincing the city’s Board of Supervisors to set aside 15 city-owned...

No Place for Us

The low-income students living in Irvine Meadows West, a historic trailer park at the University of California, Irvine, received more than a liberal arts...

Economic Rights are Human Rights

Families with nowhere else to go often wind up staying at a modest row house on a side street off Kensington Avenue, a downtrodden,...

From Brooklyn to Berlin: Organizing Schoeneweide

The scene looks familiar enough. In a foyer outside an elegant legislative chamber, a group of citizens is pigeonholing their local politicians. A vote...

Building a Better City: Europe’s Affordable Housing Standard

In the United States, nonprofit builders of affordable housing often compete against each other as well as against larger, better-capitalized private builders for limited...

New Jersey’s Campaign Against Lead

The effects of lead poisoning on a child’s physical and emotional development and cognitive ability are well known. An investigation that ran two years...

Listen To Me

When Dolores Shaw first got involved with the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP) eight years ago, she had two children entering school and a...

Housing Set-Asides: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

In August 2002, Kevin Jackson, director of the Chicago Rehab Network, sent a letter out to network members and supporters to introduce a campaign...

Helping the Mayor Get Your Way

“We need more buses!” That’s what organizers with Miami’s congregation-based organizing group PACT (People Acting for Community Together) heard loud and clear as they...

Winning a War, But Losing the Battle

Victory in a tenant organizing campaign is usually defined by improving conditions for the tenants involved – an egregious repair problem is fixed, landlord...

The Right to Know

 Josefina de la Cruz’s migration history does not stop at her arrival from Mexico in 1972, but continues through five different Chicago neighborhoods, most...

High Stakes for Public Housing: Organizing Public Housing Residents

The Millennial Housing Commission (MHC) report represents stage two in an agenda to give increased decision-making powers to local public housing agencies, and target...

Organize! A media campaign on the value of affordable housing

Advocates for affordable housing and a high-powered public relations firm make an unlikely team, at first glance. But that’s exactly who teamed up over...

Organizing with the State on Your Side

In California, municipalities are required by law to plan for their fair share of affordable housing. Has this put housing advocates out of a...

Housing Advocates Track Indoor Environmental Hazards to Spur Improvements

When the community health promoters of San Diego’s Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) say they’re doing pollution testing, many people probably imagine samples from the...

Don’t Start Small

It’s often said that organizers should begin with easily attainable goals to bolster their group’s confidence. But Caroline Murray, executive director of the Anti-Displacement...

Involving union welfare office workers in welfare organizing

The Organization of the NorthEast (ONE) has over 70 members: religious congregations, social service agencies, ethnic associations and businesses from three diverse lakefront Chicago...

Vertical Integration

When Vickie Stapleton’s landlord announced his intention to terminate his project-based Section 8 contract with HUD last year, she got nervous. “A lot of...

Patience and Politics

State education departments are always looking for ways to improve low-performing schools, and not always finding them. In 1992, the Texas Education Agency agreed...

Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

Massachusetts has one of the nation’s worst housing cost problems. Its rents and home prices have risen at one of the steepest rates in...

Money Doesn't Always Win

"You know, LeRoy, money always wins."At those words, LeRoy Lemos sprang into action. Lemos, a community activist and director of the PODER Project in...

Improving Schools from the Bottom Up

Two years ago, when Oakland ACORN was considering a new citywide initiative, members voiced one concern loud and clear: the poor conditions of the...

Using Information to Confront Corporate Power

In 1991 the United Steelworkers of America, locked in a bitter labor dispute with Ravenswood Aluminum Co., decided to extend the battle beyond the...

Persistence Pays

Employees of Erickson Cosmetics Company (makers of Banana Boat lotion) only wanted what they had earned. Especially workers like Juana Vasquez who worked at...

Tenant Organizing Wins One-for-One Replacement

In 1996, a small group of highly organized residents of North Beach public housing in San Francisco began to raise questions about the fate...

Bringing Down the Barriers to Enrollment in Federal Programs

Constance Etheridge went to the Department of Social Services office in South Carolina for a simple reason: she and her children were hungry and...

Clearing the Air

The Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point has one of the highest asthma rates in the world. Home to the world's largest food distribution center,...

"No Evictions. We Won't Move!"

"This land is too valuable to permit poor people to park on it."  -Justin Herman, former executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, 1970The...

Philadelphia Campaign Reshapes Homelessness Debate

For the past few years, homeless advocates in Philadelphia have made some remarkable strides in pushing for solutions to homelessness. Several distinct but overlapping...

Grassroots Advocacy Strengthens Housing Trust Fund

Washington state housing activists came together in 1997 to launch the  Housing Our Community Campaign to increase the state Housing Trust Fund (HTF) to...

Strategy Shift Yields Jobs from Marriott

A local organization affiliated with National People's Action, a 27-year-old coalition of grassroots neighborhood groups, won a public meeting with Chicago Police Superintendent Terry...

National Collaboration Drives Transportation Policy

On August 12, 1998, almost 1000 leaders from 14 states gathered in St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Chicago, Illinois, for a one-of-a-kind...

Park 1 – Stadium 0: The People Win!

In April 1996 residents of Newark's Ironbound neighborhood – an old industrial area now home to a thriving immigrant population – read in a...

Alameda Corridor Jobs Coalition Wins Railroad Jobs

In 1997, residents of Los Angeles area neighborhoods in the path of what will be the largest public/private rail transportation project in the country...

Divide and Conquer

In its one and a half years, the New York City Coalition for the Preservation of Gardens (known as the Garden Coalition) has worked...

Leveling the Playing Field

In 1997, a coalition of churches, environmental groups, developers, and government officials organized a campaign to help clean up Minnesota's 4,000 acres of brownfields,...

Living Wage Lives in L.A.

It was 1996, and an economic Godzilla loomed over Los Angeles, coming to crush the city's precarious prosperity. That, at least, was the way...

Oakland Campaign Puts Kids First

Low-income youth and youth of color are often first to feel the effects of shrinking local human service budgets. In Oakland, California – across...

Tenderloin Senior Organizing Project

"It's hard to do this – I was scared," said Robin King, one of the younger women living in a building organized by the...

Gaining Ground by Holding Back

Late last year, St. Louis ACORN members learned that Regional Hospital – the city's only "safety net" hospital that guaranteed care regardless of ability...

Finding Common Ground

Everyone knows the real story of Las Vegas – enormous power concentrated in the hands of casinos, unchecked by government and oblivious to community...

Fighting for Worker's Rights in Maine

Years of alleged wage, immigration, safety, and civil rights violations, environmental sanctions, and other infractions at the DeCoster egg farm in Turner, Maine, have...

Organize! Shedding Some Light on Fighting the Right

Draconian cutbacks in health, welfare and housing services, attacks on the civil rights of people of color, gays and lesbians, immigrants, and the reproductive...

Organizing to Build a Movement

In December 1994, President Bill Clinton proposed converting public housing and project-based Section 8 into vouchers. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Congressman Rick Lazio...

All Organizing is Constant Re-organizing

In 1990, a manufacturing plant in San Antonio laid off more than 1,000 employees, most of them Mexican-American women with limited formal education. The...

Not Another Parking Lot

Fight City Hall - and WIN! It took almost a year, but solid strategic planning and tenacious grassroots organizing paid off for affordable housing activists...

Building A Power Base

The first and most important battle organizers face is working with members to build an independent power base. Building an organization, and forcing a...

Holding Politicians Accountable

The elections of 1994 demonstrated the power of constituent organizing (mostly done by the right wing), the dissatisfaction of many voters with the current...